You know that office bromance: two of a kind, always taking their lunch together, always wearing the same sly grin. Only ever a hair away from a cold joke about how spreadsheets are a living hell; about taking a bullet if it means going home early on Friday. Sometimes in these fantasies, they’re heroes being hauled out on a stretcher.
Sometimes they’re the ones pulling the trigger.
Now, say these guys discover a loophole that makes some days less real than others—less permanent—and start to act out their violent fantasies without fear of reprisal. Why shouldn’t they? Tomorrow, everything will go back to normal, with no one the wiser but them.
They’ll always remember what it felt like to act on their basest impulses. They’ll know how it could feel to do it again.
Maybe you don’t know these guys. Maybe you don’t want to.
Soft Targets is a reality-bending novella about malignant malaise; the surrender to violence; and the addictive appeal of tragedy as entertainment.
Contains graphic depictions of gun violence in the workplace; caution recommended.
Soft Targets is an absurdist horror novella, the new proposal from Carson Winter. And it goes directly to debate one of the burning themes of American society, as is the easiness of getting a fire weapon by individuals whose mental health might not be in the best state; all using a story with an interesting proposal, which I don't expect to make people feel indifferent.
“If you found out that there were days you could do anything, that nothing mattered, what would you do?”
Our two characters are fascinated by the aspects of mass shootings, and partly, they fantasize about the possibility of living one. The relationship between Ollie and our unnamed narrator is good, and they decide to go live together. Existence is quite normal until Ollie discovers that there are some days that matter more than others; and in fact, those other days literally don't matter, and whatever happens is non-existent in the grand scheme of reality.
Once they establish those days are in fact a sort of Groundhog Day, we are spectators of how Ollie and our narrator start transgressing the limits, until once they cross the final line; and it's just a matter of time until they use one of those days to commit a mass shooting. Winter uses this kind of structure to create a debate, creating characters that are violent lovers, but who are only restricted by the fear of consequences.
Using an unnamed narrator is also an interesting resource, as I feel it creates an effect of immersing you more in the novella, putting you in the shoes of Ollie's friend. We can clearly see how both of the characters are in a bad mental state, but nobody does anything to stop them, not even themselves.
Soft Targets is a brave novella, one that forces us to look at the worst aspects of a controversial aspect of American society. I felt kinda conflicted while reading it, as it isn't conceived as a pleasant experience, but more as a reflexive one. Totally recommended if you like horror.
Carson Winter is an author, punker, and raw nerve. His fiction has been featured in Apex, Vastarien, and Tales to Terrify, among others. “The Guts of Myth” was published in volume one of Dread Stone Press’ Split Scream series. His novella, Soft Targets, is due out from Tenebrous Press in March 2023. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.